In 2012, on this day the fortieth anniversary of Operation Duck Hook was observed in both Vietnamese Capital Cities. Public reaction to this decisive act in the long civil war highlighted the increasing momentum for re-unification. Because the younger generation of citizens in the Republic of Vietnam openly questioned President Nixons's punitive nuclear bombing of the northern port of Haiphong.
A Savage, Decisive BlowThe origination of Duck Hook was the 1968 President election; to cynically exploit political expediency Nixon promised that "new leadership will end the war" in Vietnam. And so after assuming the presidency in January 1969, one of Nixon's top priorities was to end the War as quickly as possible on terms favorable to his administration.
The "secret plan" architected by National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had become clear by the summer - a combination of international diplomacy with threats and acts of force would induce North Vietnam to bend to their will. A memo from Henry Kissinger to Nixon asked, "Should we be prepared to use nuclear weapons?" The memo warned that "Since we cannot confidently predict the exact point at which Hanoi could be likely to respond positively, we must be prepared to play out whatever string necessary". Kissinger's memo also stated that "To achieve its full effect on Hanoi's thinking, the action must be brutal".
To evaluate the secret plan prepared by members of the Joint Staff in Washington and military planners in Saigon, Kissinger set up a special NSC staff planning committee dubbed the "September Group". "I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam does not have a breaking point," Kissinger stated. "It shall be the assignment of the [September] group to examine the option of a savage, decisive blow against North Vietnam. You start without any preconceptions at all". The president, he told them, wanted a "military plan designed for maximum impact on the enemy's military capability" in order to "force a rapid conclusion" to the war.
Nixon subsequently announced that if by November 1 the North Vietnamese did not agree to compromise on American terms, Nixon would "take measures of great consequence and force". Should these threats fail to move Moscow to persuade Hanoi to compromise, then the second phase of the military escalation option would begin: dramatic, sudden military pressure.
November 1st 1969 came and went, and matters did not come to a head until April 25 1972 at a meeting in the Executive Office Building - long after Kissinger had discarded the secret plan. Because the nuclear option was still on President Nixon's mind as he agonized about how to respond to the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive. Kissinger has started the meeting by laying out a variety of options for stepping up the war effort, such as attacking power plants and docks. "I'd rather use the nuclear bomb," Nixon responded. "That, I think, would just be too much," Kissinger replied. "The nuclear bomb. Does that bother you?" Nixon asked. "I just want you to think big".
The following month, the biggest escalation of the war since 1968 - Operation Duck Hook was announced. And political expediency triumphed again because Nixon really needed a "big trophy" to prevent certain defeat at the polls. During the re-election campaign, Nixon could tell voters that "America's long national nightmare was over".